Safe to stay home from this trip.

TOUCANIA

An explorer visits an island of fantasy animals in this Quebecois import translated from French.

Amelia’s off on an expedition. She’s a grown-up, but when she was little, her grandfather found an unusual island and told her about it. He went only once, and she too can go only once: À la Brigadoon, it’s accessible for a single day every 50 years. Amelia’s knowledge of the island comes from her grandfather, who’s invoked repeatedly. Frequent exclamation marks (“She’s smiling so hard that her cheeks hurt!”) don’t enliven the bland present-tense prose or successfully force excitement. The island’s mythical fauna thrill Amelia, but while they’re conceptually whimsical—merbears, hedgemunks, howlverines, koalaroceroses—both the animals and the setting are pale and lackluster. For an island with “intense heat,” scents of vanilla and nectar, colors that “overwhelmed” Amelia’s grandfather, and “beauty [that’s] astonishing,” the low-intensity hues are watery and washed-out, and repetitive background patterns evoke wallpaper. Amelia, like her grandfather, holds the title of “doctor,” but her trip emphasizes delight, not research. Given that, and given the implied tropicality of the island, the whole piece has a whiff of colonialist tourism: Amelia and her grandfather both carve their initials into a tree; the island has a “real name” they never learn; and Amelia presents White. Her grandfather, shown only in black and white, has a swarthy complexion.

Safe to stay home from this trip. (Picture book. 4-7)

Pub Date: March 16, 2021

ISBN: 978-1-4598-2523-9

Page Count: 48

Publisher: Orca

Review Posted Online: Dec. 15, 2020

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 1, 2021

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A good choice to share with wriggly listeners, who will soon be joining in.

AT THE OLD HAUNTED HOUSE

A Halloween book that rides on the rhythms of “Over in the Meadow.”

Although Halloween rhyming counting books abound, this stands out, with a text that begs to be read aloud and cartoony digital illustrations that add goofy appeal. A girl and two boys set off on Halloween night to go trick-or-treating. As the children leave the cozy, warm glow of their street, readers see a haunted house on a hill, with gravestones dotting the front yard. Climbing the twisty path to the dark estate takes time, so the story turns to the antics inside the house. “At the old haunted house in a room with no sun / lived a warty green witch and her wee witch one. ‘SPELL!’ cried the witch. ‘POOF!’ cried the one. / And they both practiced spells in the room with no sun.” The actions of the scary creatures within may seem odd, but the rhyme must go on: Cats scratch, goblins dust, monsters stir, and mummies mix. Eventually the three kids reach the front door and are invited in for stew, cake and brew. At first shocked by the gruesome fare, the children recover quickly and get caught up in partying with the slightly spooky but friendly menagerie.

A good choice to share with wriggly listeners, who will soon be joining in. (Picture book. 4-6)

Pub Date: Aug. 12, 2014

ISBN: 978-1-4778-4769-5

Page Count: 32

Publisher: Two Lions

Review Posted Online: July 16, 2014

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 1, 2014

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A delightful if somewhat disjointed story of “Christmas magic” working its charms on a family.

THE BROKEN ORNAMENT

Jack needs some magic to help make this year’s Christmas the best ever.

Shiny, red-foil borders and embossed lettering on the cover invite readers into a suburban household of the mid-20th century. On Christmas Eve, Jack is dissatisfied with the decorating job that he and his parents have done. He finds one last ornament, but his mother says in alarm, “Not that one!” Jack accidentally breaks it, leaving his mother in tears. A tiny fairy called Tinsel appears with tinkly bells to help Jack fulfill his wish. Saying, “let’s deck these halls!” Tinsel tosses glitter, and a large tree bursts through the floor. Caroling elves burst through the door, followed by reindeer, nutcrackers, and snowmen. Double-page–spread illustrations show the house filled with holiday fun. (Children will wonder why Jack’s parents don’t seem to notice it, though.) Jack can’t get enough of the magic, but remembering the broken ornament, he asks Tinsel for help. She can’t give him a new ornament but does offer him a glimpse of his mother’s past that helps Jack understand his mother’s heartbreak and see a way to make amends. Slightly overlong landscape design, old-fashioned furnishings, and endpapers filled with ornaments give this a feeling of personal reminiscence. Jack, his parents, Tinsel, and two of the elves present white, but the third elf has brown skin.

A delightful if somewhat disjointed story of “Christmas magic” working its charms on a family. (Picture book. 4-7)

Pub Date: Sept. 18, 2018

ISBN: 978-1-4169-3976-4

Page Count: 48

Publisher: Simon & Schuster

Review Posted Online: Aug. 20, 2018

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Sept. 1, 2018

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